Hamilton County School Board members agreed Thursday to begin offering a third option of health coverage for employees to be compliant with the Affordable Care Act.
The group met in an afternoon work session to be briefed on the changes before approving the new option during their evening meeting. Employees who accept the new plan will pay half the out-of-pocket costs but face the risk of higher deductibles.
Ed Adams, who is a consultant to the school system for risk management and employee benefits, informed the group that the plan was being offered to meet affordability standards put in place by the law. Premiums would cost $50 a month and come with a $5,000 deductible for care.
Although monthly premiums for the new option are cheaper than a BlueCross PPO plan and a Cigna HMO plan, both of which cost $100 a month, deductibles for both options are significantly cheaper than the new one.
"You might say the Affordable Care Act is misnamed," Adams said. "It's not exactly affordable. It's not as rich a benefit as currently available in the school system."
Superintendent Rick Smith summarized the difference.
"The determining factor is premium out of pocket," he said.
Still, healthy employees may opt for the new coverage.
There are no deductible costs for the Cigna plan, but costs for doctors visits and prescriptions are higher than the deductible for the BlueCross plan, which is $450 a year.
Board Chairman Mike Evatt said he didn't see any potential problems with the new coverage, adding that he didn't think many employees would forsake their current plans and take on the risk of a higher deductible, anyway.
"Honestly, I don't expect a whole lot of participation in it, to tell you the truth," Evatt said. "We already have such a well-oiled plan. We have very good health benefits. You might save $50 a month with the new option, but what if you go through a string of illnesses, and you suddenly rack up a string of doctors visits that cost you $2,000?"
If the school system didn't offer the plan, it would run the risk of being fined $2,000 per employee, Adams said. If no change was made, the fine would rise to $3,000 next year.
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